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Parking Lot Predator: The Second Strike

David Knobling & Robin Edwards

   On Monday September 19, 1987, a black Ford pickup was found abandoned in the parking lot of Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge. The driverís side door was open and the window was half rolled down. The wipers were screeching sluggishly back and forth over the dry windshield. The radio was on. The wallet of 20 year old David Knobling was on the dash. A pair of menís and womenís underwear was found inside, as well as a pair of a womanís shoes. The deeply set parking lot was known as a loversí lane. Local teens in Newport News frequently drove over the James River Bridge in order to park here. But this abandonment was strange, to say the least. Everything suggested Knobling should be nearby, but the Refuge is a huge, marshy area. And no one searched too diligently. The car was towed by the local authority. Life went on . . . and clues out the window.

True Crime Index

   On September 23, a jogger was far into the reserve, over a mile in on the narrow, trodden paths and now jogging on the sandy beach nearing a stand of lob lolly pine trees. The area has the feeling of an English more, forbidding, lonely and yet exposed. The area is largely swampy and most of it is grassy like tundraó unnervingly open and buffeted by the winds over the James River delta. The seagulls mew overhead. The whole area has the smell of a quay.

   The James River is really an estuary here of the Atlantic Ocean. Across the gulf Newport News is chocked full of ships. It is probably the shipbuilding center of the USA. This whole area has a coastal feel and not the rustic backwoods feel of an old Virginia settlement. It is, however, only 22 miles from Yorktown and Colonial Parkway and the historic vibes of the Revolution. Route 17 wends its way through Newport News and is the route that includes the long James River Bridge. Right off the bridge, turn left and there is the secluded Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge parking lot. So in its way it has a strong connection with Colonial Parkway. Both are off Route 17, and I-64 can be used to access Route 17 at both locations.

   But back to the jogger and a crisp morning, the mew of circling seagulls and the silent echoes of his sneakers as he jogged off the flat grassland path by the river and stamped upon the sandy bank that leads to the impressive oasis of tall lob lolly pines. They stand as a giant umbrella in a vast desert of grass and swamp. His name is Louis Ford. Here amongst the pines he gasps at 2 bodies. They are of a young man and girl. He gapes, turns around and runs back over a mile to the parking lot.

   The bodies are those of 20 year old David Knobling and 14 year old Robin Edwards. David is shot in the back of the shoulder. Which one we do not know. Both he and Robin are shot in the head, presumably execution style. We must assume she didnít have her shoes. Her jeans are not buttoned all the way up.   


           First Victims
       Dowski & Thomas

         Second Victims
   Knobling & Edwards

         Third Victims
   Keith Call/Sandra Hailey

         Fourth Victims
         Lauer & Phelps

             Fifth Victims
     Winans & Williams


Donna Hall & Mike Margaret

David Metzler & Heidi Childs

   The refuge is State property, and as such State Police were responsible for the investigation. We know very little. We donít even know the caliber of gun used. .22 is too small; .44 is too big; so it seems it was a .38 or .357 . . . unless the killer used an oddball .32. There is no mention of shell casings, so we can suspect a revolver and not a pistol. 

     The State Police were able to uncover that David had picked up Robin around midnight. Along with other friends they went to see Dragnet the movie. It seems that it wasnít a novelty that Robin, only 14, should go out with a guy 20 years old. She looked older than her age and was known to have older men. Apparently when only 11 years old she had a boyfriend who was 21 years old! Also, apparently, she would ďsneakĒ at night with these older guys.  Eventually the police learned that 10 teens were whooping it up at the Ragged Island parking lot around 2 a.m. They reported when they left the pickup was not yet parked there. So it is safe to say the ill-fated couple came there after 2 a.m.

     Autopsy showed that Robin had had sex.

     The indelicacies now over, we can get to a logical sequence of events. The State fuzz must have figured it the following way as well, because some of them came to worry about a cop having been involved; either a real cop or a nut playing patrolman.    

     It was a rainy night/early morning. The couple were fooling around in the pickup, a trifle dťshabillez as the French would say, from the waist on down. A car pulls up, its headlights coasting over them. Cops check the parking lot now and again. They rush to put their pants on. Robinsí was still slightly undone when the driver of the other car walked up to the pickup. David thought it a cop and turned the key to roll down the window. The windshield wipers came on. He rolled the window down halfway and either got a gun barrel in his face or a badge. They were told to get out.

     At gunpoint the driver of the other car led them beyond the yellow car rail and into the pitch dark swampy refuge along the game trail. Please follow the sequence below in the picture essay. These were made available to me by a Virginia operative who has followed the case for years. He went to the locations to finally take many pictures to document the crimes scenes and their context and gave me copies, grateful for how I recreated the entire EAR/ONS crime scene locations (65 in all!) in hopes that a clear setting in order of these locations will help to unravel the series of crimes known as the Colonial Parkway Murders. After the picture essay, we will continue the narrative. 

Google-overhead1-icon R-Edwards-icon
Ragged Island-overhead-icon Ragged Island-overhead2-icon Ragged Island-overhead4-icon
Parking lot--entrance-VO-icon Parking lot-extra angle-VO-icon Parking lot-heading back-VO-icon
Parking lot-- another angle-VO-icon Parking lot-infamous-VO-icon Parking lot-sign-VO-icon
Ragged Island-overhead3-icon Start-march-1-12 mile-VO-icon
More swamp-VO-icon Marshy-area-from-parking lot-VO-icon Swamp galore-VO-icon
More trail-VO-icon Trail continued-VO-icon Trailhead1-VO-icon
Boardwalk-heading back-VO-icon
Trail into boardwalk-VO-icon
Copper Creek2-VO-icon Boardwalk--copper creek-VO-icon Copper Creek-VO-icon
Boardwalk-view-from-end-VO-icon Boardwalk-end-VO-icon Kill-site-distance-VO-icon
Death-site-trail heading to-VO-icon Getting-closer-dense-VO-icon
Kill-site-Getting-closer-VO-icon Kill-site-Waterloo-Waterfront-VO-icon
Kill-Attack-site-Arrival-VO-icon Kill-Attack-site-another angle-VO-icon Kill-Attack site-VO-icon
Death site-VO-icon Death-site-another angle-VO-icon Death-site-closer-VO-icon
Death-site-trees-VO-icon Into woods-VO-icon Death-site-look into woods-VO-icon
Lob lolly pine-VO-icon
Death-site-woods-another angle-VO-icon
Death-site-departure shot-VO-icon Death-site-far end looking westward-VO-icon

     Several things jump out, obviously. Why would any killer lead his victims out here approximately 1.12 miles just to shoot them execution style? Just shoot them in the parking lot. Did he need to feed off their fear for while? In my experience, until the killer has the victim or couple subdued he is allaying their fears. What could he have been telling them as he led them at gunpoint the whole time?

     In doing what he did, the killer took enormous risks of both his own car and Knoblingís pickup being sighted; not only sighted but sighted in strange circumstances. After all, it was a known parking area. All accounts say the pickupís driverís side door was open. I find that hard to believe, yet so all the accounts have it. This would leave the interior car light on, and this light could attract attention. The local police checked the lot no doubt, and such a scene would be incriminating. The cop would hang around waiting for the 2nd small trail-end-VO-iconowners of the cars to come out of the refuge. How could the killer take this chance?

     The circumstances seemed so unbelievable that the detective on the case, Larry Johnson, speculated that the couple had been killed in Newport News and then their bodies dumped off the James River Bridge. They came ashore at the refuge later. Autopsy said no, however. They were never immersed in water.

     Johnsonís very public deduction would seem an exciting clue. It implicitly tells us that there were no footprints around the bodies. This would give us almost supernatural staging. But it seems the rain, searchers and media ruined any prints that must have existed. It must have been so bad that Johnson believed there hadnít been any, and apparently Louis Ford, the jogger, didnít take stock of the situation when he came upon the bodies. Johnson wasnít the original detective, so at least we know from his theory the original detectives didnít see any kind of footprints. Looking-to-James River-VO-iconThey must have been completely destroyed by the rain.

     Johnsonís theory also did not explain how the killer got away after he parked their car in the lot, though Johnson seemed to be subtly expressing his belief there was an accomplice with his own car following the killer driving David Knoblingís pickup car.

     The murder of David Knobling and Robin Edwards was a strange loversí lane murder. On top of this we can say very little except express the same bewilderment that faced the State detectives. What did the killer go to this risk? There was no reason to connect it with the Thomas/Dowski murder of almost a year before. The only similarity was that Knoblingís wallet was loose in the car. The killer clearly knew the parking lot was a petting spot. But what do the rest of the clues mean? We donít even know when David was shot in the shoulder. According to a Virginia Pilot article it was at the end when he rushed up the embankment in the woods. We must assume his body was at a distance from Robin Edwards or that after shooting David fleeing,. he made Robin come with him and then shot David and then her. But we donít know if the bodies were found near each other. The alternative? He ran and was shot in the back of the shoulder and dropped. It seems unlikely the killer would shoot the girl first. If that is the case, then after he took Knobling down, he shot her execution style and then walked over to David, clenched in pain, and shot him in the back of the head. But, alas, we do not know if this fits since we have no information on the proximity of the bodies to each other.

     State Police have released very little, unlike sheriffs and city police, which release much more information in hopes of garnering leads.

     The killer not only took the risks that he took, he felt safe in taking the unnecessary risks he took. Did he just walk back to his car, leaving the pickup sitting there, door open, radio on, windshield wipers squeaking back and forth, and the interior light attracting attention? Or did he arrange this afterward?


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